Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 16, 1955

"A Principle Eternal" (4)

Luther W. Martin, St. James, Missouri

In the Lufkin Tant-Harper Debate, Brother E. R. Harper stated:

"There are four ways to teach a thing: one is by command; the other is by an example; the other is by necessary inference; and, the other is by a principle eternal."

In our first article in this series, we suggested that IF the PRINCIPLE ETERNAL had not been classified by Brother Harper along with the THREE basic factors of learning, i.e., DIRECT COMMAND, APPROVED EXAMPLE and NECESSARY INFERENCE, we might have surmised that his expression was just another synonym for the 'law of expediency.' However, an EXPEDIENT is ALWAYS a secondary thing . . .. never one of the basic or PRIMARY elements of being taught a thing.

We take no issue with the use of an 'expedient' provided it; (1) Is not wrong within itself; (2) Does not alter or change God's teaching by command, example or necessary inference; or, (3) Does not in any way usurp authority of God's instructions. It must be pointed out, however, that an 'expedient' always depends upon one or more of the three ways of teaching set forth in God's word. There can be no 'expedient' without a foundation upon one or more of the three methods of teaching.

Here's A Brief Example

Go . . . . Teach!

Under the HOW of teaching, the lists of ways or means given under either ORAL or VISUAL teaching, depend solely upon the previously given COMMAND or EXAMPLE. Furthermore, we should not forget the restrictions upon tile use of 'expedients.' It is this writer's contention that the so-called 'centralized oversight' method of doing teaching or 'mission' work, VIOLATES God's teaching, inasmuch as it ALTERS God's examples given in the New Testament, showing HOW such work was done in the New Testament church. In New Testament days when a worker or workers were proclaiming the gospel in a 'mission field, the individual congregations sent to that worker or workers wherever he was. It was NOT sent to a 'sponsoring' or 'forwarding' congregation, and then finally sent to the worker. For example: "Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from

Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity." (Phil. 4:15-16.) THIS IS AN EXAMPLE. But the present-day practice among some congregations is to ALTER and CHANGE that EXAMPLE! Today, one church decides that IT will become the 'sponsoring' or 'forwarding' congregation for the German work . . . . another will be 'sponsoring' the Italian work . . . . another will be the 'sponsoring' church for the Radio and TV work .... and, in fact, for expediency's sake, let's just AGREE TO DESIGNATE the elders of ONE large Texas or Tennessee congregation to become the 'sponsoring bishops' for all the 'mission work' in the State of Idaho .... another for all the work in Montana, etc. Thus, all the 'contributing congregations' would send their funds to the bishops of the 'sponsoring congregations' and these 'sponsoring bishops' would take the oversight of THE WORK in their designated state, region, district, province, or diocese.

Does this not lead to just such a situation?

Referring To Other Debates Again

In the Otey-Briney Debate of 1908, Mr. Briney came forth with what he called a "GREAT GENERAL PRINCIPLE" which he said "is to control the children of God in carrying on this great and world-wide work." (The Missionary Society.)

In the Wallace-Hunt Debate of 1951, Mr. Hunt talked of a PRINCIPLE which he had derived from a study of the 'law of expediency' and upon which he justified all 'aids' used by an individual in performing an act of worship.

In the Clubb-Boles Debate, Mr. M. D. Clubb the Secretary of the Tennessee Christian Missionary Society, had this to say about the 'Law of Expediency':

"We come now to the main argument — that of Christian expediency. That there is a large class of things which come within the sphere of expediency in the work and worship of Christians is so clearly taught in the New Testament that it needs no special emphasis here. So many things are left to human discretion and choice in the practical details of the Christian life that one can scarcely move without feeling the need of the liberty of expediency. This liberty is recognized by all Christians of every name, and has always been.

"In the large class of things which necessarily come within this sphere, we have the Sunday School, the Christian Endeavor Society, the Bible College, the publishing house, Sunday-school helps, tuning forks, the music scale in the hymn book, the hymn book itself, church buildings, methods of missionary work, etc. All of these are simple expedients about which the New Testament is silent. They are neither commanded nor forbidden. The only legitimate question to be raised about any of them is a question of expediency. Are they helpful? Are they an effective means of doing what must be done? Is their use in conflict in any way with what is commanded?

"The only law in the realm of expediency is that stated by Paul: "Let all things be done unto edifying . . . ." (Clubb-Boles Debate, page 139.)

Mr. Clubb's Reasoning Is Fallacious

The ONLY law or restriction in the realm of expediency, according to Mr. Clubb, is .... "Let all things be done unto edifying." If this be the case, we could add to, and also substitute for, the edifying work of the church. The ridiculous extreme would be to just do away with the local congregations and do all of the 'edifying' through a missionary organization.

The so-called 'Sunday school,' as long as it establishes no officers and governments, and confines its work to the carrying out of the instructions of the elders IS the church at work. Obviously the Christian Endeavor Society does NOT fit into that category.

The Bible college and/or a publishing house is NOT the WORK of the church. They should be and ARE, I HOPE, simply business enterprises carried on by individual Christians.

The hymn books with their musical scales, along with a tuning fork or pitch pipe, are truly classed as expedients, for that is exactly what they are. The same can be said for church buildings. However, if the amount of the Lord's money spent on any of these 'expedients' departs from the basis of that which is 'reasonable,' or that which could be said to be the exercise of 'good and sound judgment,' then the ABUSE of expedients may become a SIN. But, to the contrary, let it not be said, that some brother has legislated as to HOW MUCH of the Lord's money may be spent for buildings, and other helps.

Clubb Missed Some Laws In Expediency's Realm

Although Mr. Clubb said the ONLY law in the realm of expediency was . . . . 'Let all things be done unto edifying,' we'd like to show some others. "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak .... wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." (1 Cor. 8:9-13.)

"And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." (Col. 3:17.) Thus everything we do, in spiritual matters, must be IN THE NAME OF, or BY THE AUTHORITY OF Jesus Christ. A true 'expedient,' which is always secondary to some primary command, example or necessary inference, will be inferred and thus taught by Christ's authority. A counterfeit 'expedient' would be illustrated by Mr. Clubb's claim that the Missionary Society IS an expedient. Similarly, Brother Harper's argument, IF by 'eternal principle' he means the 'Law of Expediency,' would be demonstrating a counterfeit expedient in designating 'centralized cooperation' as being upheld by a 'principle eternal'


This article concludes the series on the 'principle eternal' which in turn was prompted by the Lufkin Tant-Harper Debate. Just to keep the issues straight and clear: (1) This writer has not charged Brother Harper with upholding the Missionary Society . . . . but his arguments are similar in 'principle' with those of Clubb, Briney, and Hunt. (2) This writer has not charged Brother Harper with endorsing instrumental music in Christian worship . .. . but his 'principle' argument, if followed through, will not permit him to further oppose those who DO use the instrument. (3) This writer has not charged Brother Harper with being sectarian in practice, YET . . . . but Brother Harper's 'principle' arguments are parallel to the arguments used by sectarian preachers, in which they attempt to uphold their man-made practices and doctrines. If my conclusions are wrong . . I'm willing to be shown . . . . "I'm from Missouri!"